3 Environmental risks |
29. The Committee received much evidence on the environmental
risks of fracking, relating to:
· Water supplies
· Air emissions
· Habitats and
· Noise and disruption
We cover each of these below.
30. The evidence from a range of government bodies
and independent scientific institutions is generally in agreement
that fracking can proceed in the UK safely and without harm to
the environment provided proper environmental safeguards are introduced
and adhered to. However, uncertainties remain because of the experience
in the United States and the fledgling state of the industry in
the UK, meaning that the perception that fracking is inherently
31. Hydraulic fracturing activities pump fracking
fluidwater, sand and chemicalsunder pressure into
a deep well. When
the well is depressurised, a proportion of the fracking fluid
is returned to the surface as flowback alongside naturally occurring
contaminants mobilised by the fracturing process. There is a risk
to groundwater through the escape of fracking or flowback fluids,
and a risk of polluting surface water or the ground from storage
of these fluids above ground.
32. It is critical that groundwater is protected
from contamination. The Environment Agency's Groundwater protection:
Principles and practice state that damage to groundwater may
be irreversible, and that the precautionary principle must be
of the public are clearly concerned about the risks to groundwater
from fracking, many looking to the "track record of fracking
elsewhere in the world".
The Frack Free Balcombe Resident's Association raised concerns
that "wells or fractures intersecting with natural faults
could easily become conduits for leaking gases and liquids"
in Britain's highly faulted geology.
ENDS' UK shale gas and the environment reported the make-up
of flowback fluid at one of Cuadrilla's sites:
At Cuadrilla's Preese Hall site near Blackpool,
the fluid was some three-times saltier than sea water and had
up to 179 micrograms of lead per litre against a 10µg/l drinking
water standard. It had chromium at up to 222µg/l, more than
four-times the drinking water standard.
33. British Geological Survey highlighted the recent
publication of 3D maps showing the relationship of potential shale
gas source rocks and the overlying principal aquifers in the UK,
considering it "an important first step" but suggesting
that further work is required to adequately assess groundwater
vulnerability. They told us:
The difficulty lies in the fact that below c.200m
there is very little information and data on the hydrogeological
properties and potential for movement of pollutants through rocks
below this depth.
The risks to groundwater must be eliminated but,
they added, "there is, as yet, very limited experience of
this type of industrial activity in the UK to adequately characterise
and quantify the risks."
Dr Tony Grayling from the Environment Agency told us the regulatory
"regime that we currently have is sufficient," and sufficiently
incorporates the precautionary principle.
SaFE believed however that "the Government is putting people
and the environment at significant risk" because it is not
applying the precautionary principle.
34. In a number of areas, potential oil and gas reserves
are located beneath principal aquifers used for water supply in
the UK and the concern is that wells passing through these aquifers
provide a "potential pathway for migration of pollutants"
from the fracking and flowback fluids.
Evidence from conventional hydrocarbon fields shows that hydraulic
fracturing due to injection of fluids can, in exceptional circumstances,
lead to fracture propagation to the surface or near-surface, if
it takes place at relatively shallow depths.
British Geological Survey told us that "47% of [principal
aquifers] are underlain by shales/clays that are potentially prospective
for gas or oil."
Dr Tony Grayling told us:
In relation to source protection zones, which
are the zones where there are abstraction boreholes for drinking
water, there is a prohibition by the Environment Agency on drilling
in those areas. They are actually defined by pollution travel
times rather than by metres
Our permitting system is such
that we will only permit an activity if we are satisfied that
there is no significant risk of harm to the water environment
or water resources. There is an absolute prohibition in protection
zones 1. Outside protection zones 1, we would take a very rigorous
The Environment Agency maintained that the use of
'hazardous substances' for any activity, including hydraulic fracturing,
would not be permitted where they would or might enter groundwater
and cause pollution.
35. Despite this assurance, concerns remain. Frack
Off Fife told us:
It is without doubt that each of these [underground
extraction] processes pose a threat to our water supplies. Why
the Government need to re-query this is unnecessary as there's
an abundance of scientific evidence to support the facts that
the chemicals used in the drilling and fracturing processes, are
very dangerous in many aspects and once the water supply is contaminated,
it cannot be un-contaminated. Water's natural ability to permeate
rock means the contaminated waters will eventually find clean/natural/ground
waters and thus, contaminate them ... and put at risk the environment
Greenpeace referred to the concerns of UK medical
health campaign group Medact that fracking is an inherently risky
activity with associated pollutants including "carcinogens,
mutagens, teratogens, respiratory irritants and neurological,
endocrine and haematological disrupters/toxins" and "industrial-scale
fracking would pose unacceptable risks to the health and well-being
of local residents."
Water UK research has identified that "a small number
of the substances present [in fracturing fluids] are likely to
be classified as hazardous under EU and UK regulations."
36. Paul Mobbs believed that flowback fluid is a
greater risk than the original fracking fluid, due to the mobilisation
of deep radioactive and other naturally occurring materials by
the fracturing process, mixing with the fracking fluid.
The Researching Fracking In Europe consortium informed us that
their "research has found that even in the 'worst case scenario',
flux in the radioactivity of flowback fluid would not exceed the
annual exposure limit set by the UK Environment Agency."
The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management
considered the risks of contamination from mobilisation of methane
in groundwater to be generally low in the UK.
British Geological Survey are currently researching the "temporal
variation in methane in groundwater" and are looking to finish
the work and develop a baseline by March 2015.
37. Dr David Lowry also raised a concern about endocrine
disruptors, noting findings of "higher levels of hormone
disrupting activity in water located near fracking wells than
in areas without drilling" in the United States.
In a letter to Dr Lowry the Environment Agency stated that it
was "aware of the use of endocrine disrupters in some parts
of the USA and the potential link to shale gas fracking there
The Environment Agency will not authorise the use of substances
hazardous to groundwater in hydraulic fracturing."
38. The majority of written submissions we received
cited well integrity as the key to preventing pollution from fracking
Smith believed it was "so crucial for protection in terms
of groundwater, waste fluids and impact on the environment."
UK Onshore Oil and Gas highlighted that there would be multiple
physical barriers of casing and cement and the natural impermeable
geology layers as protection for the well, and integrity testing
prior to the commencement of fracturing activities.
However, we heard that the only fracking well drilled so far in
the UK, at Preese Hall near Blackpool, suffered well integrity
issues and that crucial tests had not been carried out.
Countryside Alliance calculated that the "probability of
an individual well blowing out or leaking is relatively low (typically
around 1 in 5000 for onshore wells)" but that "the large
number of wells that need to be drilled increases the chance of
such an event happening."
Friends of the Earth directed us to evidence from the United States
that "found failure rates in newly-drilled shale gas wells
in Pennsylvania to be between 6.9% and 8.9%".
39. Caroline Raffan told us her "greatest worry
is that water contamination will get worse over time as wells
develop concrete failures, and the methane escapes into the water
table and also into the environment."
There is concern that underground pollution events might not be
identified before, or may happen after, wells are abandoned. The
National Physical Laboratory told us that "there are no monitoring
requirements for abandoned wells."
Mark Ellis-Jones from the Environment Agency assured us, however,
As long as the operator is holding the permits
and is responsible for the site, at any time before, during or
after operations we have the powers to take enforcement action
if there was a pollution event of any kind or a breach of permit
Particularly after the sites have been operated and then
decommissioned, we would not allow the operators to surrender
their permits until such a time as we felt that the sites had
been restored to a satisfactory environmental condition or there
was no long-term risk to the environment
Under the Environmental Liability Directive,
we can hold companies to account for any environmental damage,
even after they have surrendered their permit. So we can take
enforcement action even after permit surrender and would do so
The conditions in the permit are indefinite,
so we have essentially, under the Environmental Permitting Regulations,
in theory indefinite powers to not accept an operator surrendering
its permit to us if we think there is an ongoing risk. What we
would have to do is take every site on a case-by-case basis, depending
on the extent of operations, how long the operations have been
lasting for, and that will vary.
40. Water UK identified a "risk from
surface spillages of chemicals and other materials"
and the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management
pointed out that "any negligence associated with storage,
transportation and operational spills represent the greatest threats
to surface water, as well as to groundwater."
The Environment Agency told us:
To protect surface and groundwater from potential
spills and leaks from onsite equipment and infrastructure, sites
must be constructed with an impermeable membrane; storage tanks
must have bunds (containment); and any clean surface water run-off
from the site would need a water discharge consent before being
released into the environment.
However, many witnesses raised concerns about what
they saw as a lack of satisfactory solutions for safe 'containment'.
41. Typical wastes arising from hydraulic fracturing
include drill cuttings, waste drilling muds, waste flowback fluids,
waste gases, and 'fugitive emissions'. The Institution of Civil
Engineers estimate that a single well might produce between 7,500
to 18,750m3 of waste water and 13,400 to 33,500 tonnes
of CO2 annually.
Both volume and content raise concerns.
42. One of these concerns is about the accumulation
of naturally occurring radioactive materials, minerals and salts
in flowback fluid and drilling muds. UK Onshore Oil and Gas told
us that these wastes are "stored within secondary containment
The Government told us "a permit for the management of extractive
waste (mining waste) is always required" and commercial operators
must submit a waste management plan to the Environment Agency
detailing how wastes on site will be minimised and managed safely.
Dr Tony Grayling told us that in practice all flowback would need
to be controlled under the permitting regimes:
Drilling muds, if they are oil-based drilling
muds, are classified as hazardous and therefore if they are included
in any waste products, the waste materials are themselves hazardous.
In terms of waste fracking fluid, it is not automatically a hazardous
material, not least because we do not allow the inclusion of substances
in fracking fluid that we would deem to be hazardous to groundwater.
But it is likely that waste fracking fluids will contain a sufficient
but low level of naturally occurring radioactive materials that
would invoke the radioactive substances regulations and therefore
require permitting on that front, and require that those waste
fracking fluids are disposed of at an appropriately licensed wastewater
treatment facility. 
The Environment Agency added that:
Any hydraulic fracturing fluid left underground
at the end of the operation will also be considered an extractive
waste. Operators will need to ensure that any waste fluid left
underground stays within the target formation and cannot move
to geological layers above. They will do this by ensuring that
the fractures stay in the shale beds and that the well bore is
43. Friends of the Earth warned that "waste
disposal remains problematic for fracking companies."
Water UK advised that "elevated salinity presents a challenge
for wastewater treatment"
and that "It is unlikely that the standard wastewater treatment
works will be able to manage waste water from unconventional oil
They reported however that treatment can be undertaken to recycle
wastewaters for re-use in further hydraulic fracturing.
The Institution of Civil Engineers confirmed that "onsite
water treatment technologies exist (e.g. thermal distillation
or reverse osmosis filtration), but this is not yet widely practiced."
Dr Tony Grayling from the Environment Agency told us:
The background levels of naturally occurring
radioactive materials are relatively low but we expect them to
cross the threshold in which they will come into regulation. We
consider that we do have the capacity in terms of the waste treatment
facilities to deal with that waste in the current stage of development
that the industry is at. This is a permittable activity so they
will have a permit under our radioactive substances regulations
that require that waste be managed in very specific ways to make
sure that it is dealt with on site in bunded tanks, for example,
and then disposed of at a properly licensed facility. So it is
a risk that can be managed. 
There are concerns, however, that if the industry
scales up the required waste treatment capacity may not be available.
44. Despite assurances from the Environment Agency
that use of 'hazardous substances' for fracking would not be permitted
where they could enter groundwater and cause pollution,
Frack Free Balcombe Resident's Association raised a concern that
the access rights provision in the Infrastructure Bill (paragraph
7) effectively allows "any substance to be injected into
and left in the lateral wells
drilled under our property."
45. Fracking itself requires considerable quantities
of water and could pose localised risks to water supplies if catchments
were over-abstracted or water supplies were stressed already.
Commercial operators can source water for hydraulic fracturing
either directly from surface water or groundwater, or from the
local mains water supply. The Institution of Civil Engineers estimated
that 10,000 to 25,000m3 of water would be required
for each well.
The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management
told us that whilst the volume of water used in hydraulic fracturing
for shale gas viewed in isolation appears large, when set in the
context of national or regional water supply it is comparable
with other industries.
UK Onshore Oil and Gas believed that "fears of water shortages
arising from shale gas development have been overstated."
46. We heard from the Environment Agency that they
expect commercial operators to source their water from the water
UK told us:
Water availability is likely to depend on local
conditions and local distribution infrastructure. The regions
where water resources are less likely to be available are in southeast
England, and the southwest Midlands
It is essential to involve [water] companies
as much and as early as possible, so that companies can plan both
for potential extra demand (in water-stressed areas such as the
South East, this is crucial) and to consider solutions for removing
untreated waste water safety.
47. We welcome the Memorandum of Understanding between
Water UK and UK Onshore Oil and Gas establishing a framework for
members of each organisation to engage and cooperate,
and the Government's agreement that water companies should be
statutory consultees in fracking planning applications.
Air emissions and health
48. During the exploration phase methane is released
to test the recoverability of the shale gas. In addition to methane,
local air pollutants from the same process can include particulate
matter, volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides. There
is additional potential for local air pollution from haulage associated
with the site. The Institution of Civil Engineers estimated that
a single well might require between 500 and 1,250 HGV lorry movements.
49. The Environment Agency told the Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs Committee that when they consider a permit
they look at the contribution the activity will have on overall
air quality. In
June 2014 Public Health England concluded that the "currently
available evidence indicates that the potential risks to public
health from exposure to the emissions associated with shale gas
extraction will be low if the operations are properly run and
Nonetheless, Dr F P Rugman alerted us to a recent study that found
"high air concentrations of potentially dangerous chemicals
near on-shore fracking sites in the USA," including benzene,
formaldehyde, hexane, and hydrogen sulphide.
He raised concerns that "the Public Health England Report
cites some preliminary short term studies of adverse health impacts
of fracking in the USA, but does not address the probable cumulative
long-term impact of air emissions such as benzene on the lifetime
cancer risks. Another major unknown is how low level, but long-term,
exposure from multiple chemicals might affect peoples' health."
UK Green MEPs considered that "the health impacts of air
pollution will only be exacerbated by fracking and will make it
harder for the UK to meet EU air quality standards."
They referred to European Commission research in 2012 which stated:
Emissions from numerous well developments in
a local area or wider region could have potentially significant
effect on air quality. Emissions from wide scale development of
a shale gas reservoir could have a significant effect on ozone
levels. Exposure to ozone could have an adverse effect on respiratory
health and this is considered to be a risk of potentially high
50. Philip Mitchell has conducted local surveys which,
he told us, had led to concerns that "there have been an
increase in respiratory symptoms, including acute breathlessness
and asthma and that these correlate with the drilling and, predominantly,
fracking operations." Mr Mitchell also said Cuadrilla used
polyacrylamide which was an irritant to the respiratory system,
and glutaraldehyde which was linked to asthma.
Dr David Lowry raised the concern of radiation risk from radon
gas which might be released during fracking, referring to Public
Health England's Review of the Potential Public Health Impacts
of Exposure to Chemical and Radioactive Pollutants as a Result
of Shale Gas Extraction which concluded that there is "the
potential for radon gas to be present in natural gas extracted
from UK shale."
The Geological Society noted concerns relating to mobilisation
of natural uranium but stated "we are not aware of any evidence
No Hot Air believed that "refusing to access local resources
of natural gas and oil
avoids the significant and proven
positive health impacts of lowering air pollution from
We discussed concerns relating to endocrine disruptors above (paragraph
51. The Government told us that "any venting
or flaring of gas from a well is regulated by DECC through the
Petroleum Exploration Development Licence ... [and] venting is
not normally permitted."
The Environment Agency informed us that commercial operators require
a permit under the Industrial Emissions Directive to undertake
flaring of over 10 tonnes a day of waste gases and that "where
flaring does occur, we consider the use of fully enclosed flares
as Best Available Techniques. We will not allow open flaring or
venting, except for safety as a last resort."
They told us:
An air dispersion modelling assessment will be
required, to determine the likely impact of flaring the gas on
local air quality standards. We will need to be satisfied that
the contribution of emissions from the proposed flaring is acceptable
in terms of potential environmental and health impacts. The operator
will be required to monitor the emissions to air from the flaring
A weakness of the Environment Agency's consideration
of 'best available techniques' is that they will take account
of costs in the appraisal of permitting applications.
52. Unintentional leaks'fugitive emissions'have
the same potential consequences as planned flaring. Mark Ellis-Jones
told us "from a regulatory point of view, our expectation
is full containment. Any industrial process will have fugitive
emissions of some kind, but our starting point is the expectation
that there is 100% containment."
The Environment Agency assured us that fugitive emissions were
subject to extractive waste permit conditions
and identified methods to prevent unintended gas release:
for leaks prior to starting, and during, operations;
pressure of drilling fluids; and
physical control equipment forcing the borehole to be shut.
They told us:
Should elevated levels of methane be detected,
we would require the well to be shut and the cause for the increase
in levels to be investigated and remedied. The operation will
only resume once we are satisfied that the issue has been resolved.
53. We welcome the Government's announcement that
the Environment Agency will enforce 'green completions'the
collection and separation of water, sand and gas to prevent escape
of gasas a requirement of environmental permits for shale
Habitats and biodiversity
54. The direct loss or fragmentation of habitat,
noise and vibration, air and water contamination, light and truck
movements associated with fracking operations could all have an
impact on wildlife. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
estimated that transportation related to fracking activities "equates
to between 4,300 and 6,600 truck trips per well pad."
They also pointed out that "excess water abstraction could
negatively affect aquatic habitats that are important for wildlife."
The Woodland Trust raised concerns about "the potential of
fracking operations to damage areas of ancient woodland, which
are precious, irreplaceable habitats
covering only 2% of
55. On the other hand, the Geological Society highlighted
the example of Perenco's Wytch Farm oil extraction site which,
although not subject to fracking, has operated in an area of outstanding
natural beauty since the late 1970s.
Nevertheless, the Government told us that major development of
shale gas extraction in National Parks, the Broads, Areas of Outstanding
Natural Beauty and World Heritage Sites would be allowed only
in "exceptional circumstances" and when public benefit
can be demonstrated.
The Prime Minster informed the House of Commons Liaison Committee:
"We have not really defined what they would be but, clearly,
there is a much higher threshold to be crossed."
56. The same restrictions do not apply to include
Sites of Special Scientific Interest, despite the legal protections
given to these sites.
RSPB told us:
18% of the UK's Sites of Special Scientific Interest
fall within land available under the 14th Licensing Round [for
petroleum exploration and development licences], so the impacts
on our most precious sites and species could be significant. Any
damage to the SSSI network could lead to the UK failing to meet
its international commitments for biodiversity.
The Government informed us that development cannot
normally occur on Special Protection Areas, Special Areas of Conservation
and Sites of Special Scientific Interest unless it can be shown
there will be no adverse impact on the integrity of the site,
and that all public authorities when exercising their functions
have a duty to have regard to conserving biodiversity.
57. Cuadrilla's exploratory drilling operations at
Preese Hall near Blackpool were halted in 2011 following two earth
tremors linked to their activities, before restrictions were lifted
at the end of 2012. The Geological Society reported:
The maximum magnitude of any seismic event is
dependent on the mechanical strength of the rock in which it occurs.
The crust in most of the UK is relatively weak, and unable to
store sufficient energy for large seismic events. This means that
the largest natural earthquake we can expect is likely to be no
greater than magnitude 6. However, based on our understanding
of the mechanical strength of shale and case studies of fracking
operations in the USA, it is extremely unlikely that seismic events
induced by fracking will ever reach a magnitude greater than 3
Earthquakes at a magnitude of 3 are likely to be detectable
by few people and are highly unlikely to cause any structural
damage at the surface.
The Royal Society & Royal Academy of Engineering
also said that "seismicity induced by fracking is likely
to be of even smaller magnitude than coal mining related seismicity."
IGas Energy told us that seismic activity is a common occurrence
in the UK, with the vast majority of events induced naturally.
In December 2014 they reported "in the last two months alone
there was one tremor bigger (magnitude 2.6) than the largest recorded
in Preese Hall (2.3) and four that were very similar in size (2.2,
2.1, 2.0 and 2.0)."
However, Campaign to Protect Rural England (Kent) questioned whether
Britain's geology is too highly faulted for fracking to be safe.
58. Following the tremors at Preese Hall, DECC introduced
new controls to mitigate the risk of seismicity induced by fracking,
including prior analysis of seismic risk, systematic monitoring
and a 'traffic light' system to halt operations at predefined
levels of seismic activity. Dr James Verdon and Professor Michael
Kendall told us that the traffic light "thresholds are very
conservative", although they suggested that uncertainties
related to implementation should be addressed.
Dr Tony Grayling from the Environment Agency reported that:
For any individual site, we and the Department
of Energy and Climate Change between us require detailed seismic
surveys and detailed hydrogeological surveys as part of an application
to undertake any drilling activity or any hydraulic fracturing
activity. We would expect that information will come to light
through those surveys, but it needs to be done ultimately on a
He considered the traffic light system to be adequate
for the purpose. It "has not been tested in anger, but the
threshold they have set of 0.5
is very low and I think
provides a very strict safeguard." 
Noise and disruption
59. The amenity impacts caused by fracking include
visual intrusion, loss of land, and noise and vibration from 24
hour operations and associated haulage. INEOS told us:
Like any development, a shale gas site must demonstrate
that it will not lead to unacceptable visual impact, light pollution,
noise or congestion if it is to secure planning permission from
local councils. And while operating it must prove that it meets
the conditions of its planning permission.
UK Onshore Oil and Gas reported:
The development of onshore oil and gas, like
any other industrial activity, will cause an increase in traffic
and disruption in some locations, particularly during the periods
when wells are drilled or hydraulically stimulated. Planning controls,
established by the Minerals Planning Authority will mitigate disturbance
along with the demonstration via a traffic management plan how
the operator plans to manage routes, traffic safety and amenity
of introducing new traffic to an area. The industry's community
benefits scheme (paragraph 7) will compensate those communities
60. INEOS believed that "local disruption associated
with drilling and fracking is comparable in scale to a building
site, and only temporary (typically lasting about six months).
After this a site produces discreetly for up to a few decades."
However, the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental
Management pointed out that, in the UK, shale gas extraction may
be near to large populations, creating a much more noticeable
impact on communities and the local environment.
Haulage of materials, waste and equipment was a source of concern
for Greenpeace, who warned that:
The volume of heavy goods vehicle traffic required
for fracking is likely to increase local noise and air pollution
associated with road traffic. It will also have a significant
traffic impact on local roads, especially in areas where new road
building is impractical or environmentally destructive.
Dianne Hogarth highlighted that local roads were
not built to withstand increased traffic of heavy lorries from
The Institution of Civil Engineers estimated that "a single
well might require between 500 and 1,250 HGV lorry movements."
Greenpeace pointed to an Institute of Directors study predicting
average truck movements of between 6 and 17 per day over five
years and European
Commission research warning of up to 250 truck movements a day
to a single drilling site.
61. The range of environmental risks, discussed above,
is extensive, and there remains uncertainty about their significance
because fracking operations have yet to move beyond the exploratory
stage in the UK. Such a situation requires strong safeguards in
the following key areas: the regulatory regime, monitoring, liability
arrangements and 'social licence', as we discuss below.
62. The Government explained to us the roles and
responsibilities of departments involved in the regulation of
DECC has the overall lead on unconventional oil
and gas policy, including shale gas, and coordinates activities
across Government departments. Defra has policy responsibility
for the environmental aspects of shale gas policy, with the exception
of climate change and seismicity issues which are a DECC lead.
DCLG is responsible for the planning system including environmental
impact assessment. Defra and DCLG responsibilities extend to England
only, as environmental policy and the operation of respective
planning systems are devolved matters.
Operators who wish to explore for shale gas require
a number of permissions:
They must first be granted a Petroleum
Exploration Development Licence by DECC which will confer exclusive
rights to an area.
They also require environmental permits
from the environmental regulator, access agreement from relevant
landowner(s), scrutiny from the Health and Safety Executive and
DECC consent before operations can commence.
All project activities, such as drilling,
hydraulic fracturing, or production, require planning permission
from a local Minerals Planning Authority or, on appeal, from the
Planning Inspectorate. The Secretary of State for Communities
and Local Government also has powers to call-in planning applications
for his own determination or, similarly, to recover planning appeals
for his own determination.
The Environment Agency set out additional requirements:
For a site that is planning to undertake hydraulic
fracturing, the following permits and permissions are likely to
A permit for the management of extractive
waste (also known as 'mining waste') will always be required where
a new well is being drilled and waste needs to be managed.
A notice under the Water Resources Act
to 'construct a boring for the purposes of searching for or extracting
minerals'. The notice will set out details of the well design
A permit for a radioactive substances activity
to manage Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials from a well
that is producing oil or gas.
A permit for a groundwater activity, where
there is a risk of an indirect discharge to groundwater from the
A permit for an installation under the
Industrial Emissions Directive, if operators intend to flare more
than 10 tonnes of waste gas per day.
A water abstraction licence if the operation
abstracts more than 20 cubic metres per day directly from a river
63. We took some assurance from Dr Tony Grayling
that the Environment Agency "take the potential environmental
risk from extracting shale gas extremely seriously, and indeed
the public concerns there are around this agenda."
However, we heard much to suggest that there are uncertainties
which point to unacceptable gaps, inconsistencies and inadequacies
in the current regime. Joanne Hawkins told us:
There is a well developed existing regulatory
framework governing conventional oil and gas extraction. However,
when applied to the extraction of unconventional oil and gas,
gaps in the current regulation are apparent. These can be seen
in areas relating to chemical use, waste, emissions, environmental
liability, environmental assessment, water and planning. These
gaps are the result of uncertainty surrounding if/how current
regulations apply and from the presence of inappropriate application
Attention needs to be drawn to the problems
in the current regulatory system if the risks of fracking are
to be considered in context.
Lord Smith, chair of the Task Force on Shale Gas,
If you add up the range of environmental regulations
that are currently in place, mostly in different European directives,
you probably have a range of protections that are sufficient for
the various issues that we can currently envisage. However, it
is all rather diffuse across a range of different directives and
it is the responsibility of a range of different public bodies
to undertake the regulation. One of the key issues that we are
tussling with at the moment is: does that make sense? Would it
be better to have a bespoke regulatory regime that had the expertise,
the knowledge and developed it, especially if we are going to
see a lot of new applications coming online? At the moment you
have only a few handfuls of applications and the current regime
appears to be reasonably well geared up to be able to deal with
that. If that were to expand dramatically, I think there are serious
questions about whether it is.
Concerns were also raised about the availability
of sufficient regulatory resources to properly regulate fracking
in the UK.
64. The existing regime is complex and whilst we
welcome the Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive's
joint working strategy, Working together to regulate unconventional
oil and gas developments,
it remains to be seen whether this will ensure effective regulatory
co-ordination across all the relevant bodies and departments.
A joint strategy concerning the regulation of unconventional oil
and gas signed by all relevant national and local departments
and agencies must be developed and published.
65. The Government must ensure adequate numbers
of skilled and experienced staff are in place to regulate unconventional
oil and gas now and in the future.
66. Work to determine the baseline status of the
environment, including baselines related to methane in groundwater
and fugitive emissions, and subsequent monitoring requirements
must be completed as soon as possible and the findings used to
inform fracking permits and permissions.
67. The UK has complex geology and more effort
is required to understand and map specific local geological conditions
and the influence of historic mining activity.
68. We have concluded that fracking must be prohibited
outright in protected and nationally important areas including
National Parks, the Broads, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty,
Sites of Special Scientific Interest and ancient woodland, and
any land functionally linked to these areas.
69. Venting of methane emissions is not acceptable.
Full containment of methane must be mandated in all fracking permits
70. It is crucial that groundwater is protected
and the restriction on fracking in water source protection zones
1 is welcome. However, fracking should be prohibited in all source
protection zones and all fracking activity must require a groundwater
permit when wells extend under aquifers. A minimum vertical separation
distance between shales being fracked and a groundwater aquifer
should be defined and mandated.
71. There must be clear and accessible public
disclosure on the chemicals used in the exploration and production
of shale gas, and the risks they potentially pose.
72. The Infrastructure Bill proposes an automatic
right of access to land 300m below the surface for the purpose
of exploiting petroleum or deep geothermal energy (paragraph 7).
Frack Free Ryedale consider this "removes the few safeguards
that we have."
Steve Thompsett from UK Onshore Oil and Gas thought the fracking
activity "probably would go ahead" without this change
to the Bill. Automatic
right of access to "deep-level land" is not supported
by the majority of the public and is not considered necessary
by the industry (paragraph 80). It should be removed from the
73. The changes to the regulatory system identified
above, though essential, do not however address the fundamental
need for a more coherent and more joined-up regulatory system,
and one that needs to be put in place before further fracking
activity in contemplated. First, the Strategic Environmental Assessment
of the Licensing Rounds, Environmental Impact Assessments, planning
and permit appraisals must all consider the cumulative impacts
of fracking. UK Onshore Oil and Gas told us "the industry
has committed to undertake an [Environmental Impact Assessment]
(and equivalent studies) on all sites where hydraulic fracturing
for shale gas/oil is proposed".
Second, environmental impact assessment must be mandated for all
fracking activity. We share the confidence some of our academic
witnesses had in the regulators' capability to build a robust
and effective regulatory system to cover fracking,
but we have concerns about the Environment Agency's qualified
assertion that "the current regulatory regime is satisfactory
to enable this industry potentially to develop in a way that protects
people and the environment, at least for the exploratory stage
of the industry's development."
Third, attention must be paid to the way in which the industry
and the risks might scale up. There is the prospect that a regulatory
regime for operational extraction would be applied without the
same rigour that had been applied to the exploration phase. It
is important that the necessary regulatory arrangements are determined
and in place prior to the expansion of the industry. Finally,
there should be a consolidated regulatory regime specifically
74. We welcome the Environment Agency's inclusion
of mandatory conditions for baseline monitoring in the draft permits
for the two sites currently pending planning permission. Mandatory
baselines and continued monitoring, covering all relevant indicators,
must be conducted.
75. It is unacceptable that there are no monitoring
requirements for abandoned wells and this should be remedied immediately.
We had misgivings about industry being in control of data-gathering
in our National Pollinator Strategy inquiry, where pesticide
companies were funding the continuing research on the effects
of neonicotinoids on pollinators.
We agree with the Environment Agency that it is "essential
that [commercial operators] take responsibility for their work"
and conduct their own monitoring "in accordance with the
standards that are set in [the Environment Agency's] monitoring
and welcome the Agency's recognition of the "the desirability
of some independent monitoring at this stage of the industry's
We note the announcement this month that British Geological
Survey will assist Cuadrilla in monitoring groundwater, air quality
and seismicity at its Lancashire sites.
Monitoring by the commercial operator should be supplemented with
such independent monitoring in all cases to increase public confidence
in the results. The regulators must conduct regular unannounced
spot checks and audits of all fracking sites, and facilitate a
clear and accessible public disclosure of all monitoring data.
76. There are concerns regarding the adequacy of
the liability arrangements covering fracking activity, including
the continuing safety of wells that are subsequently decommissioned
(paragraph 39). It is regrettable that the amendment to the Water
Bill to secure a liability guarantee was rejected.
Minerals Authorities can ask for bonds, and should do.
It is imperative that commercial operators have sufficient resources
and insurance to cover full liability in the event of a pollution
incident. Licences, permits and permissions must not be issued
if this cannot be demonstrated. We welcome the industry's efforts
to develop an insurance mechanism: this must be in place in advance
of any fracking activity.
77. Public concern about fracking is understandable,
following examples of poor environmental performance in the United
States which have put the risks in sharp focus. Government action
has also shown inconsistency, as Tom Burke told us:
I think people have noticed very clearly the
inconsistency in the behaviour of a Government that says, "We
cannot have more onshore wind because people do not like it and
it is not acceptable to the public, but we can have lots of fracking."
That inconsistency of approach, again, it seems to me undermines
Poor performance and unacceptable environmental consequences
have been witnessed in the United States. Professor Paul Stevens
It is not a good idea to look at the United States'
experience on these sorts of things because, largely speaking,
the shale gas operations there have not been particularly well
regulated. The [US] 2005 Energy Act explicitly excluded fracking
from the [Environmental Protection Agency's] Clean Water Act,
so an awful lot of what is being done in the United States has
been done badly and done in a context of poor regulation.
78. Many of our witnesses acknowledged that the existing
UK conventional onshore industry has a generally safe history,
with over 200 producing wells and no pollution incidents from
well design, although
well integrity and monitoring issues at Preese Hall (paragraph
38) act to undermine this position for new fracking technology
in the UK.
79. Public acceptancewhat Tom Burke called
a 'social licence'is critical in determining whether fracking
should continue in the UK. We can envisage the development of
a regulatory regime fit for the purpose of fracking but we are
unable to see at this stage how the crucial 'social licence' can
be established when the debate around fracking is so polarised.
The openness of all involved is vital. Publishing only a redacted
report on Shale Gas Rural Economy Impacts
has not been helpful in this regard. We asked Defra for an un-redacted
version of the report during our inquiry, and this should now
be published as soon as possible. The Government and industry
must be transparent and make publicly available all other information
relating to fracking as a matter of course.
80. The Infrastructure Bill proposal of an automatic
right of access to land 300m below the surface for the purpose
of extracting energy is equally unhelpful. 74% of the public are
against this proposal,
and when the industry acknowledges that it is not necessary
it is difficult to see why this should remain in place. This
proposed change in trespass law has serious implications for citizens'
rights which could unnecessarily undermine the democratic process
for objecting to development. On this issue, the public have spoken
and the Government must listen.
81. Public engagement requires trusted sources of
research and government policy development to fully reflect the
science as well as people's concerns. Paul Mobbs believed there
were failings in the three major reports the Government used to
support its stance on fracking: the 2012 Royal Society and Royal
Academy of Engineering review, 2013 Mackay and Stone review of
climate impacts (paragraph 17) and 2014 Public Health England
review of health impacts (paragraph 49).
Others criticised the Government for failing to implement all
of the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering's 2012 recommendations
prior to initiating fracking activity in the UK,
and those bodies said that further research from the US "on
the alleged and real contamination arising from fracking"
published after their own report should now be considered.
82. We welcome Lord Smith's Task Force on Shale Gas.
Public funding for its work is preferable but we share Lord Smith's
view that that is not likely.
The Task Force's intention is to issue a series of interim reports
over an 18-month period and a final report in the early part of
2016 focusing on local impact issues, local environmental impacts,
climate change impact and economic issues.
Lord Smith added that he thought health impacts of fracking had
not been sufficiently researched
and we agree.
83. The Government must fully engage with the
work of the Task Force on the climate change and environmental
risks, and await its findings before proceeding further with fracking
in the UK. We called in Part 2 for a moratorium on fracking because
it cannot be accommodated within our climate change obligations.
A halt is also needed on environmental grounds, and it is essential
that further independent studies into the impacts of fracking
in the UK are completed to help resolve the environmental risk
uncertainties. It is vital that the precautionary principle is
applied. Until uncertainties are fully resolved, and the required
regulatory and monitoring system improvements we identify are
introduced, there should also be a moratorium on the extraction
of unconventional gas through fracking on environmental grounds.
64 The House of Commons Library note on Shale Gas and Fracking
identified the content of fracking fluids used by Cuadrilla in
Fluids used by Cuadrilla have comprised:
fresh water and sand-99.96% and polyacrylamide friction reducers-0.04%.
Other potential additives include hydrochloric acid, typically
at a concentration of 0.125%, or biocide at a concentration of
0.005% if required to purify the local water supply.
Shale Gas and Fracking, Standard
Note SN06073, House of Commons Library, December 2014 Back
Environment Agency, Groundwater protection: Principles and practice (GP3),
(August 2013), p 20 Back
Julia Desch (FRA066) Back
Frack Free Balcombe Resident's Association (FRA063) Back
UK Shale gas and the environment, Environmental Data Services,
November 2013 Back
British Geological Survey (FRA077) Back
British Geological Survey (FRA077) Back
Safety in Fossil Fuel Alliance (FRA0060) Back
Water UK (FRA005) para 10 Back
Richard J Davies et al, "Oil and gas wells and their integrity: Implications for shale and unconventional resource exploitations,"
Marine and Petroleum Geology, vol 56 (2014), pp239-254 Back
British Geological Survey (FRA077) Back
Environment Agency (FRA064) para 3.3 Back
Frack Off Fife (FRA042) para 3. See also Talk Fracking (FRA019)
para 2.2, Alice Waddicor (FRA053) para 3 and Dr David Lowry (FRA059) Back
Greenpeace UK (FRA050) para 5.23 Back
Water UK (FRA005) para 17 Back
Mobbs' Environmental Investigations (FRA051) para 16 Back
ReFINE (FRA007) Back
CIWEM (FRA006) para 9 Back
British Geological Survey (FRA077) Back
Dr David Lowry (FRA059) Back
Unpublished letter Back
OESG (FRA017). See also Friends of the Earth (FRA018) para 4,
Halliburton (FRA021) para 3.4.2 Back
UKOOG (FRA011) para 11 Back
Qq96, 104-5. See also Friends of the Earth (FRA018) para 4 Back
Countryside Alliance (FRA002) para 11 Back
Friends of the Earth (FRA018) para 4 Back
Caroline Raffan (FRA056) para 7 Back
NPL (FRA074) para 3.9 Back
Water UK (FRA005) para 30 Back
CIWEM (FRA006) para 10 Back
Environment Agency (FRA064) para 3.6 Back
For example, UK Green MEPs (FRA014) para 17 Back
ICE (FRA070) para 2.1 Back
UKOOG (FRA011) para 23 Back
DEFRA, DECC and DCLG (FRA068) para 3.8, 3.24 Back
Environment Agency (FRA064) para 3.21 Back
Friends of the Earth (FRA018) para 18 Back
Water UK (FRA005) para 19 Back
Water UK (FRA005) para 37 Back
Water UK (FRA005) para 20 Back
ICE (FRA070) para 3.3.2 Back
CIWEM (FRA006) para 10. See also Water UK (FRA005) para 36,38 Back
Environment Agency (FRA064) para 3.3 Back
Frack Free Balcome Resident's Association (FRA063) para 8(4) Back
ICE (FRA070) para 2.1 Back
CIWEM (FRA006) para 4 Back
UK Onshore Oil and Gas (FRA011) para 19 Back
Water UK (FRA005) para 11 Back
Water UK (FRA005) para 38 Back
Water UK (FRA005) para 40 Back
Q106. See also Water UK (FRA082) Back
ICE (FRA070) para 2.1 Back
EFRA Committee, DEFRA's responsibility for fracking, HC 589, Q57
[Dr Leinster] Back
Public Health England, Review of the Potential Public Health Impacts of Exposure to Chemical and Radioactive Pollutants as a Result of Shale Gas Extraction.
(June 2014), page iii. Back
Dr F P Rugman (FRA032) para 3 Back
Dr F P Rugman (FRA032) para 11 Back
UK Green MEPs (FRA014) para 21 Back
AEA, Support to the identification of potential risks for the environment and human health arising from hydrocarbons operations involving hydraulic fracturing in Europe.
(August 2012), page viii Back
Philip Mitchell (FRA058) appendix 1 Back
Dr David Lowry (FRA059) Back
The Geological Society (FRA003) para 9 Back
No Hot Air (FRA030) para 2 Back
DEFRA, DECC and DCLG (FRA068) para 3.21-22 Back
Environment Agency (FRA064) para 3.28 - 29 Back
Environment Agency (FRA064) para 3.30 Back
Q93 [Mark Ellis-Jones] Back
Environment Agency (FRA064) para 3.23 Back
Environment Agency (FRA064) para 3.24-25 Back
Environment Agency (FRA064) para 3.25 Back
DEFRA, DECC and DCLG (FRA068) para 4.7 Back
RSPB (FRA015) para 3.6 Back
RSPB (FRA015) para 3.10 Back
The Woodland Trust (FRA013) para 2,4 Back
The Geological Society (FRA003) para 18 Back
DEFRA, DECC and DCLG (FRA068) para 3.39 Back
Liaison Committee, Evidence from the Prime Minister, HC 887, Q52 Back
RSPB (FRA015) para 3.5 Back
RSPB (FRA015) para 1.1 Back
DEFRA, DECC and DCLG (FRA068) para 3.36-38 Back
The Geological Society (FRA003) para 12-13 Back
The Royal Society & Royal Academy of Engineering (FRA067)
para 7 Back
IGas Energy (FRA027) para 27 Back
CPRE (Kent) (FRA012) para 3.3 Back
Dr James Verdon and Professor Michael Kendall (FRA022) FRA S2 Back
INEOS (FRA020) para 26 Back
UK Onshore Oil and Gas (FRA011) para 31 Back
INEOS (FRA020) para 27 Back
CIWEM (FRA006) para 14 Back
Greenpeace UK (FRA050) para 5.28 Back
Dianne Hogarth (FRA049) Back
ICE (FRA070) para 2.1 Back
Institute of Directors, Infrastructure for Business: Getting shale gas working
(May 2013) page 16 Back
AEA, Support to the identification of potential risks for the environment and human health arising from hydrocarbons operations involving hydraulic fracturing in Europe
(August 2012) page xi Back
DEFRA, DECC and DCLG (FRA068) para 1.3-4 Back
Environment Agency (FRA064) para 2.3 Back
Joanne Hawkins (FRA008) Back
Countryside Alliance (FRA002) para 26. See also Rhona MacLeod
(FRA034) para 1m) Back
Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive, Working together to regulate unconventional oil and gas developments
(November 2012) Back
Frack Free Rydale (FRA047) para 3.8. See also Home Owners Alliance,
74% oppose fracking without homeowners' approval, accessed 21
January 2015 Back
Q151. See also Q22 Back
UK Onshore Oil and Gas (FRA011) para 26 Back
Environmental Audit Committee, Second Report of Session 2014-15,
National Pollinator Strategy, HC 213 Back
UK's first independent research to monitor fracking as it happens,
BGS press release, 15 January 2015 Back
Public Bill Committee, Water Bill, 10 December 2013, col 222 Back
Rural Community Policy Unit, Shale gas rural economy impacts,
March 2014 Back
Home Owners Alliance, 74% oppose fracking without homeowners' approval,
accessed 21 January 2015 Back
Q151 ( See also Q22) Back
Mobbs' Environmental Investigations (FRA051) para 30-40 Back
Frack Free Balcombe Resident's Association (FRA063) Back
Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering (FRA067) para 8 Back